NFL Preview: AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs                                       Projected Record: 11-5

Alex Smith played at an MVP level last season, and most around the Kansas City Chiefs organization feel they got better at the quarterback position. I am buying all of the Patrick Mahomes stock available, and believe he can dominate from his first snap under center. The combination of Mahomes natural ability, the weapons surrounding him, and Andy Reid is absolutely deadly, and should obliterate opposing defenses. The pairing of Mahomes and Tyreek Hill is a match made in heaven, and running back Kareem Hunt remains one of the league’s most prolific talents out of the backfield. The Chiefs also boast one of the NFL’s most consistent offensive lines, with right tackle Mitchell Schwartz anchoring the line from the right tackle position. His job just got significantly easier with the stunning trade of Khalil Mack, but facing the duos of Von Miller/Bradley Chubb and Joey Bosa/Melvin Ingram twice a year remains one of the hardest jobs in football. While the offense looks to be one of the league’s most feared units, their defense should be a welcome sight for struggling offenses. Cornerback Kendall Fuller will try and fill the hole left by Marcus Peter’s departure, but the drop off from a Pro Bowl talent like Peters to league average will certainly be felt. The return of Eric Berry will also help stabilize the group, but overall the secondary has more questions than answers. The Chiefs front seven is equally uninspiring, with an assortment of solid rotational pieces but no elite talent. The pass rushing combo of Justin Houston and Dee Ford is solid, but the linebacker corps as a whole needs serious improvements. In total, Kansas City should be one of the league’s most exciting teams and their offense should prove very quickly to be must watch football.

2. Los Angeles Chargers                                 Projected Record: 10-6

The Los Angeles Chargers have compiled one of the leagues deepest and most talented rosters, complete with elite level talents on both sides of the ball. The addition of rookie safety Derwin James, and the first full seasons for both wide receiver Mike Williams and guard Forrest Lamp adds three highly touted “rookies” to a team that won nine games last season. At quarterback, Phillip Rivers remains a steadying presence as he continues to crank out Pro-Bowl caliber seasons. Running back Melvin Gordon finally rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, and looks to set a new career high this season behind a much improved offensive line. For the first time in a very long time, the Chargers can evaluate their offensive line and feel optimistic about their chances. Even if the inevitable injury bug makes an appearance, Los Angeles has about seven or eight league average offensive lineman which is a lot more than many teams can say. On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will continue to wreak havoc this season as one of the league’s top pass rushing duos. The Chargers also possess one of the league’s deepest collection of corners, with All-Pro cornerback Casey Hayward captaining the squad. Trevor Williams and Desmond King III both took huge strides last season as up and coming corners, and each will play a pivotal role as Los Angeles looks to remain one of the best secondaries in the league. Where the Chargers remain weak is up the middle. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Darius Philon remain huge question marks, and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman has yet to prove he can stay healthy and on the field. Los Angeles struggles in special teams can also not be overlooked. After the Younghoe Koo debacle last season, the Chargers failed to shore up the kicker position this offseason. Los Angeles signed both Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo to compete for starting kicker with Sturgis eventually winning out with Aguayo getting cut. Sturgis looked strong in the preseason, but he should in no way quell the fears of worried Chargers fans everywhere.  If everything breaks right, the Chargers could overtake the Chiefs for the AFC West crown, but more than likely they will settle for second place and a wild card berth.

3. Denver Broncos                                            Projected Record: 7-9

The Denver Broncos have enough exciting players to keep a lot of their games competitive, but lack the coaching or the star power to truly compete with the upper echelon of the AFC. Denver’s new starter under center is Case Keenum, who unlike any of the Broncos quarterbacks last season, is actually a competent NFL quarterback. The addition of rookie running back Royce Freeman should provide a spark on an otherwise bleak offense that probably peaked about three years ago. Neither Demariyus Thomas nor Emmanuel Sanders are the players they used to be, but while Sander’s career could be extended by Keenum’s affinity for short and intermediate routes, a deep threat like Thomas could see a dramatic dip in production. Defensively, the Broncos still employ a bevy of playmakers across all levels of defense, but it has yet to translate to a strong, cohesive unit. Rookie pass rusher Bradley Chubb should excel from week one, and lining up opposite Von Miller will only open up opportunities for the top five pick. At middle linebacker Denver has Brandon Marshall, a quick and versatile tackling machine who captains the Bronco defense. Finally in the secondary Denver has retained a few crucial members of their Super Bowl winning defense, most namely cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby. Both Harris Jr. and Roby grade out as above average starters and the two form an experienced and savvy cornerback duo. Overall, the Broncos will remain close in a lot of their games this season, but will ultimately wind up with a losing record and on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

4. Oakland Raiders                                              Projected Record: 3-13

New Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s handling of the Khalil Mack situation has only cemented my belief the Raiders will be an absolute dumpster fire this season. It takes a special kind of coach to have already lost the locker room before week one even begins, but then again Gruden is a special kind of guy. The move to trade Mack for two first round picks makes theory in a vaccum (tying up almost half your cap in two players like the Raiders would have with Carr and Mack doesn’t make team building sense) but not for an Oakland team that believes they can compete now. Trading away a player of that caliber sends a clear message to the rest of the team that winning is no longer a priority, and when that player was a team leader like Mack it can be even tougher to see the silver lining. For now, Mack departs a defense that could be one of the worst in the league. Bruce Irvin and draft darling Maurice Hurst are both enticing players in Oakland’s front seven, but overall the unit is lacking in exciting young talent. The secondary has a couple intriguing young players, including second year corner Gareon Conley and third year safety Karl Joseph. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders seem equally inept. Derek Carr has come to be defined by mediocrity, while Marshawn Lynch continues to chug along in his twelfth season in the league. Oakland’s receiving corps is more style than substance, with big names like Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson masking just how bad this unit could be. Incredibly, this roster is one of the oldest in league history with an average age of 27.4. This is a full six months older than the next closest team, the Atlanta Falcons who clock in at 26.9. All signs point to the Raiders having an absolutely dreadful season, as Gruden’s return to coaching should get off to a less than stellar start.

 

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Kirk Cousins is a Viking

Yesterday, we asked what was up with Kirk Cousins.

Today, we know what’s up with Kirk Cousins.

He is expected to sign with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.

The contract is expected to be worth $84M over three years.

Cousins, 29, threw for 4,093 yard and 27 touchdowns in 2017, his third season as the Washington Redskins starter. Washington placed the franchise tag on Cousins for two consecutive seasons, which raised his price in free agency.

Case Keenum, the Vikings 2017 starter, is expected to sign with the Broncos today. Sam Bradford has agreed to a deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Ironically, both of these teams were among Cousins’ favorites

Teddy Bridgewater is also a free agent, but his future is less certain than the others.

Broncos expected to sign Case Keenum

It may not be who everyone was expecting, but the Denver Broncos found their QB in free agency.

Despite being linked to former Washington QB Kirk Cousins even before the regular season ended, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday night that when free agency starts on Wednesday, the Broncos are expected to sign the man who engineered the Minnesota Miracle to stun the New Orleans Saints in January. Denver landed Case Keenum.

Benjamin Allbright reported the details early Tuesday morning:

The signing may come as a surprise to many, seeing as the Broncos were a favorite to land Cousins. This could also end the possibility of the Broncos drafting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, considering how much money the team will be committed to paying Keenum.

Keenum, who will be joining his fifth different team since 2014, has never been one of the game’s elite quarterbacks.

Not until 2017, that is.

After going 4-5 with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, Keenum joined the Minnesota Vikings last season and led them to an 11-3 record, and into the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw for 3547 yards and 22 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions, and had a 67.6 completion percentage.

Keenum obviously did enough in 2017 to raise his stock, but there are always question marks surrounding big signings such as this one.

Keenum was helped by a defense that ranked first overall in the NFL, according to ESPN.com. The Broncos, on the other hand, came in at third overall in those rankings. With the loss of veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, though, the Denver defense will only get younger this year, and could regress.

There is still hope for Broncos fans, though. Keenum presents a significant upgrade over the quarterback carousel made up of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch that Denver had to utilize last season.

Keenum brings proven postseason experience and success to a young and relatively inexperienced corps. He could be a valuable mentor to the younger players, as well as serving as a rock at an unsteady position for the Broncos since Peyton Manning retired.

What’s up with Kirk Cousins?

With just two days until unrestricted free agents can choose where they continue their career, it remains a mystery as to where several quarterbacks will go.

Perhaps most notable on the list is Kirk Cousins, who has reportedly narrowed his destination down to four teams; the Cardinals, Vikings, Jets and Broncos. Which one is the best fit?

Let’s take a look at each.

Arizona Cardinals

Carson Palmer finally broke beyond repair, and now the Cardinals can put someone good under center. Mike McCoy was hired as offensive coordinator under new coach Steve Wilks, meaning the offensive scheme is more than likely to change. Cousins is certainly a good person to build an offense around, but Arizona has some money issues to address if they want him. Tyrann Mathieu is on a huge contract, and it would be hard for the Cardinals to pay him and Cousins. However, Mathieu is on the trading block, leaving the potential to free up some money. That doesn’t mean they’ll spend that money on Cousins, though. It makes a lot of sense for them to trade Mathieu for Nick Foles and then draft a quarterback to develop under him. We’ll see.

Minnesota Vikings

The defending NFC North champs have three quarterbacks expected to hit free agency, and there is a chance that all three leave. Sam Bradford is the most likely to go, as his presence is no longer needed. Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum both took the Vikings to the playoffs, but are either of them as good as Cousins? An advantage to Cousins joining the Vikings is his chance to win immediately and not have to wait for the team around him to develop. When it comes to their 2018 starter, the Vikings are in good shape. If they miss out on Cousins, they still have two reliable quarterbacks to potentially re-sign.

New York Jets

Many would consider New York the front-runner to land Cousins. It was reported that they’re prepared to make Cousins the league’s highest paid player. If money means that much to Cousins, he should pick the Jets. If winning matters more, he’ll go elsewhere. It seems like the Jets are confident they can land Cousins, but if they don’t, they still hold a top ten draft pick in class filled with quarterbacks.

Denver Broncos

Similar to the Jets, Denver is not dead in the water if they don’t sign Cousins, as they own the fifth pick in the Draft. Von Miller said last month that Cousins could take the Broncos “over the edge.” Ultimately, that decision belongs to Cousins and GM John Elway. If Elway remains interested in Josh Allen, they can go with him instead. But the window for championships in Denver is closing, so the decision for the Broncos’ front office comes down to putting out an experienced guy or a young gunslinger. One works a little better than the other if your goal is to win titles.

Broncos’ No-Fly Zone takes hit as Talib traded to Rams

Another crucial piece of the Denver Broncos’ dominant defense that won the team its third Super Bowl is on its way out of the Mile High City.

NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Thursday evening that the Broncos traded cornerback Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams. The return to Denver is a fifth-round pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Talib will now join a good, young Los Angeles team coming off of a 2017 postseason appearance. The Rams have also already acquired former Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters earlier this offseason.

Last season, Talib picked off one pass in 15 games, a pass that he returned 103 yards for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. The pick-6 capped off a 42-17 beatdown in front of the Broncos’ home crowd. He also forced one fumble, recorded one sack and deflected seven passes.

The trade shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Denver was rumored to have been shopping Talib, according to a piece published by 9News’ Mike Klis, and Talib reportedly wanted to sign with the New England Patriots if he were released. Now that Talib is out of the picture, more opportunities should arise for younger members of the Broncos secondary, like Justin Simmons and Bradley Roby.

The Rams appear to be following in the footsteps of recent title-winners, such as the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, by assembling a dominant defense to complement a powerful Jared Goff-led offense that ranked 7th in the NFL last season, according to NFL.com. Their current defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, occupied a pivotal role in Denver’s success in 2015.

What’s up with Nick Foles?

The Philadelphia Eagles hold a valuable asset in Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles, and have some difficult decisions to make regarding what to do with him.

Carson Wentz is definitely the starter, but Foles has proven he can play and there are teams willing to pay a price to land him. The Eagles have all the power in the situation, as Foles is under contract, and can do as they please.

Here are some potential landing spots, in no order, for the well-endowed quarterback.

Denver Broncos: This one is a bit of a stretch. There’s a very strong chance the Broncos lose out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes and draft a quarterback. Foles would be a good addition to lead the offense and mentor the rookie, but Denver doesn’t have the assets to give up.

Arizona Cardinals: Our Editor-in-Chief Jeff Griffith proposed a second round pick and Tyrann Mathieu to Philadelphia in exchange for Foles. Jeff is kind of crazy, but this move makes sense. The Eagles can add a talented safety to their already scary roster on top of the pick. The Cardinals get their quarterback, who will cost less than the Honey Badger.

Philadelphia Eagles: As noted earlier, Wentz is the starter. But how healthy will he be? Reports said he might have to wear a knee brace for the rest of his career. Maybe he’ll need to rest his leg more than we thought. Foles can obviously win as a backup. Why not hang on to him just in case?

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Cleveland Browns: The Browns kind of gifted Wentz to the Eagles, so this might be their chance to make up for that blunder. They own 12 picks in this draft,including two early second-rounders. There will be a lot of talent on the board for the Eagles to capitalize on. Meanwhile, the Browns gain a veteran to throw into the fire while their rookie quarterback learns the pro game.

Draft Overview: Denver Broncos

After a 5-11 2017 season filled with terrible quarterback play, the Denver Broncos hold the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Coach Vance Joseph was thought to be on the hot seat, but general manager John Elway is keeping him around for at least another year.

Joseph is a defensive-minded coach, but he should probably turn his scouting focus (at least in the first round) to quarterback.

Denver started three different quarterbacks last season. Trevor Siemian was the only one of those to win a game. He went 5-5 as a starter, throwing for 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Elway was said to be impressed by Wyoming’s Josh Allen at the Senior Bowl, but there are many questions surrounding him.

Allen had average, at best, senior season. He threw for 16 touchdowns, which was significantly less than the 28 he tossed in 2016. Not only did he drop off statistically, he only brought home Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors. A quarterback slated as a top ten NFL Draft pick shouldn’t be the third best quarterback in that conference.

Allen does have a lot of qualities, and with some time to develop, could turn into a reliable NFL starter. But who will he learn from? Definitely not Trevor Siemian.

Von Miller said earlier this offseason that he had spoken to free agent Kirk Cousins about coming to Denver, but that was before the Jets said they would shell out a lot for Cousins. Unless the Broncos can match that, they might want to start looking elsewhere for a veteran.

Journeyman Case Keenum is coming off of a career year, in which he led the Vikings to a 13-3 record and an NFC Championship appearance. He’s expected to hit the open market next month. Keenum is the perfect short-term, veteran guy to mentor Allen for a year or two.

If Keenum ends up being awful, the Broncos can toss Allen in, but the approach makes sense as they could potentially set themselves up to win now and in the future.

NFL Mock Draft 1.0

The NFL Scouting Combine is next weekend, which means it’s draft season.

This first mock draft is pretty short in all honesty, only picks one through eight. That’s because we don’t know who the ninth pick will belong to. It will either go the San Francisco 49ers or Oakland Raiders and will be decided by a coin toss on March 2, the same day the combine begins.

Let’s get this rolling.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold QB, USC

The Browns need a quarterback and Darnold is the highest touted prospect in this draft class. With the first pick, Cleveland can get their man of the future … hopefully.

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2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen QB, UCLA

Eli Manning isn’t good anymore. Rosen already said he’d prefer to stay out of Cleveland, so he’ll be there for the Giants. With a year to develop behind Manning, Rosen can thrive in New York with the talented (when healthy) receiving corps. He’ll also thrive in the New York media market.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb DE, NC State

The Colts’ biggest concern going into next year is probably Andrew Luck’s health, but they also need to add some talent to an aging roster. Chubb will be a playmaker on a defense that ranked 30th in points allowed last season.

4. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley RB, Penn State

Barkley might be the best college player in the draft, but here have been questions as to whether his skills will translate to the NFL. He’s still worth the pick. Sam Darnold won’t be able to do all the work in Cleveland, and having Barkley in the backfield will help distribute the load.

5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen QB, Wyoming

The Broncos window for championships is still open, but they’ll get nowhere without a decent quarterback. General manager John Elway is believed to like Allen, and with the Jets prepared to pay Kirk Cousins big money, they’ll take their chances on the rookie from Colorado’s neighbor state.

6. New York Jets: Minkah Fitzpatrick S, Alabama

We already discussed how the Jets can land their quarterback, so now they turn their attention to the other side of the ball. Fitzpatrick is the best defensive back in the draft and will be an excellent piece to play alongside Jamal Adams. That’s a pretty goos secondary.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Jackson CB, Iowa

An aging Brent Grimes is set to become a free agent, so the Bucs will need to find a replacement. Drafting a young and talented cornerback is a good way to go.

8. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley WR, Alabama

The Bears are committed to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Now they need someone for him to throw the ball to. Ridley can fill the role of WR1, creating a potentially scary QB-WR duo.

 

Bucs release former first-rounder

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released running back and former first round pick Doug Martin this morning.

In 2017, Martin rushed for 406 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. He was selected to two Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2015.

Martin just finished the second year of a five-year $35.7M contract. His departure will open up about $6.7M in cap space for the Buccaneers.

While he certainly never really met the hype he created in his rookie season, Martin can still make a roster. He’ll likely end up with a team who uses a platoon style backfield. Look for San Francisco and perhaps Denver to express some interest in the 29-year-old.

Miller: Cousins could take Broncos “over the edge”

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller said he has spoken to Kirk Cousins during the offseason this morning on the Dan Patrick Show.

‘Kirk could take us over the edge,” Miller said.

Cousins is set to become a free agent when the new league year begins.

The Redskins, who franchise tagged Cousins before each of the past two seasons, traded for Alex Smith last night. Smith and the Redskins agreed to a four-year contract extension shortly after.

With Smith presumably becoming the starter in Washington, Cousins is more than likely to leave in free agency.

Cousins finished the 2017 season with 4,093 yards and 27 touchdowns. He is one touchdown short of 100 over his six-year career.

Denver is in desperate need of a quarterback after a 5-11 season, during which they sent out three different starting quarterbacks, including prodigal son Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian. The Broncos will have the option to choose from variety of highly touted quarterbacks with the fifth pick in the NFL Draft.

Other potential landing spots for Cousins include Cleveland and Jacksonville, but each of those teams have the potential to create controversy by signing Cousins. The Browns are expected to draft a quarterback with on of their two top five draft picks, and Blake Bortles had a successful season for the Jaguars.